Tort Reform: Short-Term Gains, Long-Term Work Remains

Monday, June 15, 2020 1:04 PM | Sydney Maras (Administrator)

Hard Cap on Noneconomic Damages

The most disappointing outcome of the 2020 session was the failure of the Iowa House to pass a hard cap on noneconomic damages. In 2017, House Republicans failed to garner sufficient votes to pass a hard cap as part of the broader tort reform package that was enacted this year. Heading into this session, we knew that the House would again be the linchpin to passage of this reform, which is absolutely critical to turning the tide on the recent string of high-dollar judgements against Iowa physicians and facilities.

IMS invested nearly $250,000 in this fight – bringing on additional contract staff dedicated solely to this work, dramatically expanding our physician engagement efforts across the state and in targeted House districts, and implementing new communications tools and outreach techniques to allow for rapid engagement at critical times in the legislative process. Despite these extensive efforts and the largest coordinated lobbying campaign in IMS history, we were unable to win over the last few House Republican holdouts who were unwilling to support a hard cap at any level.

IMS remains committed to passage of a hard cap on noneconomic damages. It is now apparent that the only path to passage of this reform is for the House Republicans to increase their majority to the point that those holdout members’ votes can be overcome by the larger legislative caucus. To help support this, the Iowa Medical Political Action Committee (IMPAC) is relaunching the $100,000 Tort Reform Challenge and committing the remainder of 2020 to raising the resources necessary to help make this happen. Watch for additional updates from IMS on how you can help.

COVID-19 Liability Protections

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged Iowa’s healthcare system in ways many never expected possible. The wholesale collapse of the traditional medical supply chain and the sheer number of unknowns surrounding the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, forced practices to improvise and adapt to the evolving situation. While these actions were absolutely critical to ensuring our healthcare system did not collapse, they also resulted in a number of liability exposure concerns.

During the legislative shutdown, IMS worked with the Governor’s Office and the Iowa Department of Public Health to enact a series of short-term blanket liability protections to help. When the pandemic forced the suspension of elective and non-urgent medical procedures, we secured protections against future litigation as a result of delayed care. When these statewide bans were partially lifted, we secured another set of blanket protections to allow practices to reopen and resume services, as their local circumstances warranted, without risking future litigation as a result of doing so.

As additional situations and liability concerns continued to come to light, it became apparent that the only way to truly protect Iowa physicians would be legislative action to enact blanket liability protections for all medical decisions made during the pandemic. Working with legislative leadership, we successfully passed language to codify the protections from the emergency orders and expand it to include all medical actions, except those that constitute intentional harm. A summary of these protections, which are retroactive to January 1, 2020, and extend for the duration of the COVID-19, is available on the IMS website. These short-term protections will be absolutely critical to helping protect Iowa practices as they work to rebuild.

The Iowa Medical  Society is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization. 515 E Locust St. Ste. 400 50309
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